Toronto Criminal Lawyer

Blog — Scarlett letters and sentencing

On 14 April 2014, the Toronto Star reported that an Ohio man — the unfortunate if unpleasant Mr. Edmond Aviv — was ordered by a Judge to hold a sign declaring "I AM A BULLY!" My teenaged daughter asked, "dad, can that happen here?" I promised to blog on it.

Judging and labelling others has a solid history in the Christian-Judaic tradition. In biblical times, the law was very large concerning leprosy, for example, which was then considered not a health issue but one of physical and spiritual cleanliness. In Leviticus 13, 38-46, the lepers must cry out "unclean, unclean": the language is self-loathing, self-abasing, and self-judging. Fast forward to 17th century American. In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (published 1850), our female protagonist, Hester Prynne, was found guilty of adultery and sentenced to wear the red letter "A" for life — as if the gossip, scorn, and stares of the Massachusetts puritans weren't enough. For modern examples, click here to listen to "Tarred and Feathered," an 11-April-2014 program on ThisAmericanLife.org.

The Ohio case reminded me of Mr. Marvin Mezquita-Duenas, who was celebrated in the Toronto news in 1998. He plead guilty to indecent act for exposing himself in front of two women in High Park. In sentencing him, an Old City Hall Judge imposed a probation condition to hold a sign in front of the Court for three hours on five days that read "I was convicted of committing an indecent act in High Park." The condition was struck down on appeal,* in part, because it was "manifestly inappropriate and an affront to the values upon which our system of justice is founded": R. v. Mezquita-Duenas, [1999] O.J. No. 861 (Ont. Ct (G.D.)).

Schadenfreude is not justice. If anything, shaming Mr. Aviv will further ostracize him and make more of a bully.

In Canada, probation is about securing the offender's good conduct and rehabilitation, not shaming. I'd expect any Toronto criminal defence lawyer to vigorously oppose such a condition. I'd be surprised but not shocked to see it imposed again.

Craig Penney, Ontario Criminal Lawyer
Certified Specialist (Criminal)

* Reuters hilariously reported that "[a] man convicted of masturbating in public has received a helping hand from a Canadian court after it threw out an order requiring him to parade around a with a sign admitting the crime." (Click here for the article.)